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Successful Diplomacy in Southeast Asia

Inter-state Preventive Diplomacy is a tactic that has been used by international organizations since the mid-1970s to address disputes between countries. Preventive Diplomacy (PD) is typically conducted by the United Nations (UN) or regional organizations such as the European Union (EU) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These organizations exercise PD through fact-finding missions, the establishment of early warning systems, the preventive deployment of armed peacekeepers, and/ or the creation of demilitarized zones between conflicting parties. Although PD in Southeast Asia has failed to resolve some of the region’s long-standing conflicts and disputes, including those regarding the Korean peninsula and between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, overall it has been quite successful in preventing and containing many other disputes. Much of the success of PD in Southeast Asia has been credited to ASEAN and its ability to mitigate disputes between member states through dialogue, consultation, and peaceful dispute resolution, as well as by upholding national sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs. In this article, however, the authors argue that the success of PD in Southeast Asia is not due to the efforts of ASEAN alone and that other factors have had

Although PD in Southeast Asia has failed to resolve some of the region’s long-standing conflicts and disputes, including those regarding the Korean peninsula and between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, overall it has been quite successful in preventing and containing many other disputes. Much of the success of PD in Southeast Asia has been credited to ASEAN and its ability to mitigate disputes between member states through dialogue, consultation, and peaceful dispute resolution, as well as by upholding national sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs. In this article, however, the authors argue that the success of PD in Southeast Asia is not due to the efforts of ASEAN alone and that other factors have had greater influence on the effectiveness of inter-state PD in the region. The authors argue that the successful use of PD in Southeast Asia is balanced on three main variables: 1) the level of great power interest in a dispute (in this case, a great power refers to one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council); 2) the perceived legitimacy of the PD actor; and 3) the nature of the agreement in question. With the first variable, the assumption is that a higher level of interest and interference by “great powers” has a negative effect on the success of the PD—the more often great powers intervene in PD, the less successful PD is likely to be. With the second variable, the authors highlight the perceived legitimacy of the UN in its role as

The authors argue that the successful use of PD in Southeast Asia is balanced on three main variables: 1) the level of great power interest in a dispute (in this case, a great power refers to one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council); 2) the perceived legitimacy of the PD actor; and 3) the nature of the agreement in question. With the first variable, the assumption is that a higher level of interest and interference by “great powers” has a negative effect on the success of the PD—the more often great powers intervene in PD, the less successful PD is likely to be. With the second variable, the authors highlight the perceived legitimacy of the UN in its role as facilitator of PD between disputing Southeast Asian countries. Here, the authors argue the UN holds more legitimacy than ASEAN as an international actor due to its global reach and the power held by the Security Council—and therefore its involvement will have a positive effect on PD. The third variable relates to the intricacies of the agreement being pursued, as well as the general understanding of the agreement among the parties involved. When the terms of the agreement clearly address grievances and are well understood by all parties, there is a better chance of successful PD.

To assess the importance of the three variables, the authors analyze case studies of past disputes (the East Timor dispute, the Preah Vihear temple dispute, and the South China Sea disputes) to see how and why PD was successful in some disputes but, so far, has failed in others. As a reminder, the East Timor dispute concerns the vast oil and natural gas reserves in the sea spanning between Australia and East Timor. The Preah Vihear temple is the focus of an emotional century-long territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand. The South China Sea is home to heavily debated maritime and territorial claims over sovereignty, trade routes, and resource rights, and has been the site of much strategic defense posturing between various countries in the region.

The UN was very active in the East Timor dispute and Preah Vihear temple dispute, and ASEAN was the key organization facilitating disputes regarding the South China Sea. By comparing the levels of involvement and success rates of the UN and ASEAN, the authors find support for their second hypothesis. They also gain a deeper understanding of whether the success of PD in Southeast Asia is largely due to ASEAN or due at least in part to the three variables framing the study.

The case study analysis showed that the intervention of great powers in an inter-state dispute typically had negative effects on PD dispute resolution. However, in disputes and conflicts where the UN got involved, its legitimacy proved to be critical to the prevention or de-escalation of violence. The East Timor and Preah Vihear temple disputes were successful examples of PD, because they both had minimal interference from the great powers, high legitimacy of the PD actor (the UN in this case), and a clear understanding among parties of the agreement being pursued. The authors argue that disputes in the South China Sea have failed to find resolution through PD, because of the high great power interest, low legitimacy of the PD actor (ASEAN and China in this case), and the complex nature of the agreements being pursued.

Preventive Diplomacy: Action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts, and limit the spread of conflicts when they do occur.1 *Here, the distinction between conflict and dispute is that disputes are often more easily resolved and less complex than conflicts, and conflicts are sometimes violent whereas disputes have yet to escalate to violence. Also, multiple disputes can exist within one conflict.

United Nations General Assembly. (1992). An agenda for peace: Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping. Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to the statement adopted by the summit meeting of the Security Council on 31 January 1992 (No. F/341.73 B6). http://www.un-documents.net/a47-277.htm

CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE

Although the authors prioritize the UN’s capabilities over ASEAN’s, since its creation, ASEAN has played an important role in conflict prevention and management in the Southeast Asia region. This is evident in one of the case studies analyzed by the authors, as well as in the low likelihood of ASEAN members using force against each other. However, the focus of ASEAN has been on preventing violence rather than on resolving conflict between its members, thereby opening a window for unaddressed grievances to escalate into violence in the future. Unresolved disputes over the South China Sea and Taiwan/China pose grave threats to regional peace. This research shows that the UN would be a more effective mediator in such cases than ASEAN, and interference from “great powers” such as China (as a conflict party), the U.S., and Russia is detrimental to peaceful and sustainable dispute resolution.

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

In this article, the authors consider PD to be successful when violence is reduced during a conflict or when PD prevents a dispute from escalating to violence. However, this definition of success does not address the resolution of any underlying causes of the conflict. Thus, dispute settlement or conflict management seems to be the underlying goal of PD, whereas conflict resolution or transformation is often beyond its purview, as the volatile conditions associated with conflict make it difficult to address the underlying conditions that caused the conflict in the first place. Unfortunately, if left unaddressed, these same conditions may reignite the conflict once the pressures or incentives of PD have worn off. By shifting attention away from regional organizations like ASEAN, international organizations such as the UN, which is often perceived as more legitimate, can lead PD efforts and discourage individual “great powers” from intervening in inter-state conflicts, while also encouraging agreements that are clear and widely understood. According to the authors, this shift will increase the likelihood of successful PD action and potentially open the door to more sustainable conflict resolution. Military force or the pre-deployment of military troops is a method in the PD “tool box.” It should be noted that as long as a military option is part of a so-called solution, PD undermines its own claim to be a diplomatic initiative. In practice, it would be wiser to make clearer distinctions between the toolboxes of conflict transformation that rely on the many viable nonviolent alternatives to military options and those efforts where military options are part of the picture. Any military component integrated into PD needs to be carefully weighed with regard to its potential to undermine diplomatic efforts.

TALKING POINTS

  • In Southeast Asia, intervention by great powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) lowers the success rate of Preventive Diplomacy.
  • Compared to regional organizations, the legitimacy held by the UN makes it more successful at brokering peace agreements.
  • International organizations, not individual countries, should take the lead in Preventive Diplomacy action and peace negotiations.

Citation

Huan, A., & Emmers, R. (2016). What explains the success of preventive diplomacy in Southeast Asia? Global Change, Peace & Security, 29(1), 77-93.

 

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